Contributed by Eileen Jeng Lynch / Harking back to the Impressionists, Lauren Luloff has begun painting from life, focusing on light, color, and the world around her. The new work has an atmospheric quality, nicely showcased by the light-filled space at Ceysson & Bénétière on Madison Avenue last month. The exhibition comprised paintings and wall-mounted ceramic works that explored the relationship between abstraction and representation. In dispensing with canvas and oil paint, Luloff has continued to subvert traditional notions of painting. She recently shared some thoughts about her evolving process with Two Coats of Paint.
The title of the show, The Evergreens, derives its name from the eponymous nineteenth-century cemetery in the artist’s Brooklyn neighborhood. Luloff used bleach to paint flora – including sunflowers, hollyhocks, hydrangeas, and blue spruces – in the cemetery and nearby community garden. Her pieces feature torn, bleach-painted bed sheets glued to pieces of translucent fabrics on stretcher bars. A tension arises between the figurative, seemingly random yet precise compositions, and rough edges of the fabric. The armature and hardware are transparent as are lines of hardened glue; thus, Luloff deliberately reveals her process. The artist has mentioned that the placement of the fabric pieces can take a long time – from a few weeks to a year.
In Blue Spruce (2017), Luloff meticulously painted each needle of the branch as well as decorative designs, including curling waves and four-pointed stars, on different shades of blue bed sheets. Hollyhocks (Vanitas) (2017) depicts the tall, stately perennial plants. Luloff captures the light and shadows and also juxtaposes the imagery with detailed designs. The title reminds the viewers about the fragility and transience of life, which is evident in another work, Tall Sunflower (2016). This piece illustrates the large, wilting flower on a dark background that does not quite extend to the top corner of the stretcher bar. Instead, a translucent, pale pink fabric covers the upper corner. It is as if gravity has dragged the opaque bed sheet down from the corner. The artist was at the mercy of the plants as she returned to observe them on a daily basis – the conditions being more variable than the potted plants in her studio, which she had incorporated into earlier works.
By mixing up different strengths of bleach and water, Luloff is able to achieve realistic representations of the flowers and plants. Bleach became a necessary medium for Luloff after a 2011 trip to Ajrakhpur, India, where she worked with a traditional woodblock printer – usually a male occupation. She learned how to create her own palette and began to mimic these patterns instead of relying on existing commercially printed patterns of fabrics as she had in her earlier work. Luloff further explains:
When I started doing the bleach drawings after India, the works eventually started to get more figurative. I started to draw what was around me in the studio – things in my daily life, drawing from life. It felt new to be so deliberate and precise – like a door opening. It was nice to see it was something that I was able to do. I didn’t think about myself as being that type of artist. As I began to have a better handle of how to use the bleach, I found that I could render a range of lights and darks really well, and there was an explosion [of new work].
After her trip, Luloff’s work became more two-dimensional as well as refined in composition and imagery. She explains that she had to “grapple with the flatness as it was suffocating [and] restraining,” “worked more in flat surfaces after coming back from India and started feeling trapped,” and “needed to get space back into the painting.” Her work shifted from the multi-layered, dimensional surfaces of her early, sculptural work to the flatter paintings with cutouts filled with transparent muslin and the creation of floating pieces hung from the ceiling. Her most recent work consists of thin layers of overlapping opaque and translucent fabrics.
Luloff’s painting also became more referential as she ceased using of commercially patterned bed sheets and applying paint using loose gestures. She “used [the] printed bed sheet as storytelling, incorporating the pattern and cultural references to the sheet.” There is an intimate history with the bed sheets, which she consistently purchases from the Salvation Army, and now she creates her own histories by painting the imagery with bleach.
The creation of space for which Luloff yearns is also evident in her ceramic pieces, which were interspersed in groups or singularly among the paintings at the gallery. Weird Rainbow (2017) has an undulating surface with drips of orange, blue, yellow, signifying a return to loose, gestural lines. They are random traces of color as the artist chooses not to record the combination of glazes, leaving the result mostly to chance or memory. The process of making ceramics is spontaneous, emotional, and expressive, according to Luloff. She says it is “beyond painting. It is a deep way to make a physically abstract expressionist form.”
The transparency of her process – evident in the torn edges, installation hardware, and glue in her paintings as well as the handprints in her ceramic works – is intentional and intriguing. It will be interesting to see the direction she pursues next as the ceramic pieces perhaps increase in size and become more refined. For the two-dimensional works, Luloff has considered sewing – with the recent purchase of new parts for her old sewing machine – which may, perhaps, lead to the use of different fabrics and the discovery of new narratives.
“Lauren Luloff: The Evergreens,” Ceysson & Bénétière, Upper East Side, New York, NY. September 20 – November 4, 2017.
“Subtle Formations, ” with Julia Westerbeke, Anne Gilman, Fanny Allié, Liz Jaff, Ruth Hardinger, Lauren Luloff, Wendy Small and Suzanne Goldenberg. Curated by Anna Shukeylo. James Howe Gallery at Kean University, Union, NJ. Through December 18, 2017.
About the author: Eileen Jeng Lynch is an independent curator and writer who has organized numerous exhibitions in New York. She has more than ten years of experience in nonprofit and for-profit arts organizations, and is currently the Operations Manager at RxArt.